Shirley Caesar

After 35 albums, how many would guess that Shirley Caesar has not yet had an album of church hymn standards?

With an appropriately titled album filled with the strains of eleven popular and ageless classics, you can now hear one Shirley Caesar Hymns CDof Gospel’s most cherished and continually relevant artists interpret the songs that many have grown up with.

Alternating between the growly and the tender, the raspy and the smooth, Caesar demonstrates her full range of colors and timbres.

Hymns begins with a high-profile and perhaps unexpected pairing, as Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child joins with Caesar on the beloved spiritual, “Steal Away”. Swelling organ from Maurice Rodgers intros the piece before Caesar enters, taking slow liberty in phrasing the lyrics. Chicago’s New Direction fills in with vocal support as the song shifts uptempo and Williams enters with a good blend of back and forth leads with Caesar.

New Direction steps in to support on four other tracks, with directors Percy and Jeral Gray ensuring that this vocal powerhouse choir keeps the vibe appropriately churched. “Amazing Grace” and “There Is Power In The Blood” are two of these, showcasing Caesar in fine form on familiar interpretations of this material.

Shirley Caesar Classics
Click for review Many are aware that Shirley Caesar started out with The Caravans, but there are fewer and fewer who recall those old songs.

This 2-LB on one CD recollect from Collectables Records brings back 24 songs from this legendary group, with songs that include "That Sacred Head", "No Coward Soldier" and "Jesus And Me".
Elsewhere, the renowned Shirley Caesar Singers take their places to lift up the selections to their proper place. At times, such as on “Come Ye Disconsolate”, the vocals so mirror authentic Gospel from the ‘50s that you find yourself listening for that vinyl crackle.

Longtime production collaborators Bubba Smith and Michael Mathis take care to nestle this project into a place where a touch of contemporary interpretation feels right amidst the respect shown for the roots and feel of these songs.

That’s reflected in Caesar’s version of “One More Battle To Fight” which is distinguished by the presence of dixie-influenced horns to guide the song along. The brassy trio of Sam Levine, Barry Levine and Steve Patrick do justice with arrangements from Lloyd Barry.

Fine work from other session musicians such as Cheryl Harper, Eric Darken and Rick Carter also mark this project.

Here’s some other notes:

  • The album’s lone medley combines three cross-themed hymns with Criss Johnson’s soft bluesy guitar stringing them together. “There Is A Fountain”, “Room At The Cross For You” and “The Old Rugged Cross”.

  • Caesar confides that “How Long Has It Been” was the most poignant for her, reminding her of the difficult days when her mother was ill, and the importance of families keeping in touch.

  • Track 6 marks yet another version of “Come Ye Disconsolate” to be heard in Gospel in 2001. The song also appears on Ted & Sheri’s debut, and is also the piano solo on Richard Smallwood’s Persuaded.

  • Caesar also collaborated with New Direction on some fiery cuts from her previous project, You Can Make It (see album review).

  • The next album from Caesar is slated for 2002, and features live and studio work involving several guests from both the R&B and Gospel worlds who join in duet with her.
So what more can one say. Hymns will never go out of style, and seemingly, neither will Shirley Caesar. That makes this project one for the ages.

Producer: Bubba Smith, Shirley Caesar, Michael E. Mathis
album release date: October 30, 2001
Word Entertainment

— reviewed by Stan North

  All content in GospelFlava © copyright 2001. No information to be reprinted or re-broadcast from this site without the expressed written consent of GospelFlava.com. All rights reserved.

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